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Osteoarthritis of the Shoulder

The main joint in the shoulder is called the glenohumeral joint. It commonly is thought of as the 'ball and socket' joint of the shoulder, but is actually more of a ball and saucer, as the bony socket is more flat than cup shaped. There normally is a very smooth covering of cartilage over the bones in the joint that allows normal, smooth and painless motion.

In the case of osteoarthritis, the smooth cartilage of the joint becomes damaged, rough, torn or thin.

When the shoulder is at rest there is less pain, but it usually will feel more stiff after a period of rest or inactivity. When moved again, it is more painful. In advanced shoulder osteoarthritis there may be grinding or creaking noises when the shoulder is moved. The increasing pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis is usually a gradual process.

Osteoarthritis is sometimes called 'wear and tear' arthritis. It may be caused by previous overuse or abnormal use, or due to an injury in the past which damaged the cartilage. Over months or years the damage to the cartilage worsens, and symptoms start.

Along with a history about shoulder symptoms, an thorough shoulder examination using often suggests osteoarthritis is the diagnosis. Usually X-rays are done as well.

The treatment of osteoarthritis depends upon the severity of the pain. Efforts to rebuild joint cartilage are still in the early research stages. Initial treatment often consists of physical therapy and exercises to reduce the stiffness in the joint, and this may reduce pain. For more severe pain, medications may be recommended. These may include over the counter medications such as Tylenol (generic = acetaminophen) Aleve (generic = naproxen), Motrin (generic = ibuprofen) or aspirin. Various prescription medications which belong to a group of medications called 'non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (or 'NSAIDs'for short) are commonly recommended. Some of the more commonly prescribed of these include medications such as Celebrex, Motrin, Naprosyn, Mobic, Voltaren, Relafen and Lodine. (a complete list is available at the reference below). More recently, a medication of a different class called Cymbalta has been approved to treat the pain from osteoarthritis.

More severe pain may be treated with injections of cortisone-like medications into the joint. If the arthritis is severe, the shoulder joint may be replaced with surgery.

If you develop shoulder pain with exercise or exertion, please contact your physician as this may be a sign of heart disease.

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